‘Joe Bell’ Summary & Ending, Explained – Did Joe Finish His Journey?


Francis Ford Coppola notes, “Cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated.” The comparison of Cinema with Magic lies in its breathtaking ability to shake things up in the nick of time. Twenty-four frames running at the speed of light have the power to create or destroy a moment with a cut. However, despite such cleverness and coolness, Cinema is also an art of Emotions. Mark Wahlberg’s film, Joe Bell, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, is amazingly weaved with elements of surprise and the core of all storytelling, emotions.

Joe Bell is a biographical film based on true incidents. The plot depicts the journey of a father who begins a road journey on foot from Oregon to New York (more than 2500 miles) to spread awareness about bullying. His motive and want are not only two things that make your heart weep, but Joe Bell’s relationship with his son, as it throughout the story, becomes an integral part of this outstanding film. In short, Joe Bell is a film about a film that commences a journey to understand his son better.

Plot Summary

The events of May 2013 appear on screen as Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg), a 45-year old man from LaGrande, Oregon, reaches Idaho with his teenage son Jadin Bell (Reid Miller). Joe talks about tolerance and bullying at Canyon Ridge High School, Twin Falls, Idaho, on behalf of his son Jaden. At the same time, Jaden stands away from the crowd glancing and listening to his father’s words.

Back on the road, Jaden accuses Joe of lying to the audience about “Understanding begins at home.” The incidents roll back nine months earlier and depict a dysfunctional Bell family. Father Joe Bell is a toxic American male who feels proud of his television and accomplishments. At a crucial moment, Jaden informs his father about being bullied in school because he’s gay. Joe Bell initially fails to process the new revelations and advises Jaden to fight back instead of supporting his son. As if an eye for an eye will make the world a brighter place.

The narrative non-linearly develops the father-son relationship, explores the bitter bits of the past, and a reconciling act in the present. However, the drama keeps you at the edge as it holds back the motif of Joe Bell until a tragic incident from the past is revealed that completely shakes the narrative with a single dialogue.

What happened to Jaden Bell?

My son is dead.” That’s what Joe told the drag queen he met at the Gay Bar in Salt Lake City, Utah. The interactions with Jaden during the road trip were all imaginations of Joe’s mind. The hallucinations were created to reconcile his relationship with his son and understand him better.

Jaden called his father a hypocrite who talked about messages like “understanding begins at home” when in reality, Joe never dared to understand Jaden while he was alive. Joe was worried about society much more than the feelings of his son. Unable to receive love and support from his family or friends, Jaden committed suicide after suffering several traumatic bullying incidents at school. Neither his teachers nor his family tried helping him because they were busy arguing and saving their reputation. A life fell prey to norms of the society.

‘Joe Bell’ Ending Explained

Joe was a complex man, a hypocrite like us all. A preacher who didn’t practice. He had a bunch of advice for his son, for others but failed to implement none. For most parts, he was looking for someone to blame on, and his journey of forgiveness was all about Joe Bell rather than Jaden.

“I just made Jadin’s being gay all about Joe Bell. About me. Not about my boy.”

Joe Bell

The journey began as a traumatic impulse after Jaden committed suicide. For six months, Joe wasn’t able to figure out what he was doing. He wanted to make Jaden’s life and his death matter somehow. On his road journey, he realized two important gospels. First, Being gay is not a matter of choice. If it had been, Jaden would have never chosen to be bullied or the way he died. The second realization showed up during Joe’s conversation with Sheriff Ben Westin.

Joe finally accepted that he played an important part in Jaden’s decision to end his life. He was so caught up with his feelings and stature that he failed to foresee his son’s loneliness and how badly he was struggling. If Joe would have been kind enough and a bit more receptive, Jaden would still be alive. However, the best he did, was to advise Westin not to repeat the same mistake with his son, William (who was Gay too).

For a character, his journey ends as soon as his transformation arrives. The very essence of Cinema is a character change. And Joe Bell’s acceptance of his son concludes his character’s journey. Joe died soon after his last conversation with Jaden in his head. He learned a lot of things on the road with nobody but himself for company. A respective voyage in the background that had its impact.

In the end, Sheriff Westin got the news of Joe’s accident. He was struck by a truck and killed in Eastern Colorado. The driver had fallen asleep and failed to notice a walking pedestrian. The film ended in a dreamy sequence portraying Joe with Jaden amidst the field. They finally reunited in the afterlife.

The closing shot gives its tribute to real-life Joe Bell, who died in a road accident on October 9, 2013.

Joe Bell is a 2021 biographical drama film directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. It stars Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg in the lead role.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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